EMQ’s With THE CASSINI PROJEKT
Hi everyone. Welcome to another EMQs interview, this time with Irish Progressive Metal solo project, The Cassini Projekt. Huge thanks to main man Alex McDonnell for taking part.
What is your name, what do you play, and can you tell us a little bit about the history of the band?
My name is Alex McDonnell and I play guitar, bass and keyboards. I created my band originally to put out guitar solo oriented Prog Rock. I was getting fed up with setting up bands only for people not to show up or leave because they weren’t ready to put in the commitment it takes to regularly rehearse and perform. I thought, why let people who aren’t that interested in music hold me back, so became my own band, a veritable, one-man Prog-Metal solo project. Seeing others out there like Steve Wilson or Devin Townsend showed it was possible.
My vision for the band was variegated: I wanted to react against the media status quo which praised the Post-Punk revival, but had a somewhat dismissive view of guitar solo oriented Rock and Prog; at the same time, I also wanted to write music without rules concerning structure, fitting into one style or conforming to audience expectations. The whole point was, and continues to be, to defy those expectations. So, I cross any genre which takes my fancy, even though I’m mostly closely aligned with Prog and Metal. I could have a Dance track, an Industrial song or an acoustic ballad, I can do whatever I want. It’s a conduit for a vision, I guess you could say inviting a world steeped in science fiction, esoterica, HP Lovecraft, guitar solos, Prog and Medieval fantasy into the “real” world. I think this is one of the transcendent aspects of art in that it can be used to summon an alternative reality into this one. You get the experience of that and expand your horizons. The Beatles did it with their rooftop gig for example. When you go to a gig, you’re entering an art installation of sorts – an experience that offers an alternative reality for a brief time; that’s the magic of music.
How did you come up with your band name?
It was a circuitous route to come up with the name. I’m quite interested in space exploration, so I thought, why not name my band The Cassini Projekt because the Cassini Huygens probe was launched around the same time to explore Saturn and its moons. Incidentally, Saturn is my favourite planet with its rings and plethora of orbiting satellites, which are diverse and hold many as yet unknown secrets, like Enceladus and Titan. The Sega Saturn is also my favourite games console and feels twinned to my life in that it’s a chaotic and odd mish mash of engineering, similar to my brain. It would also sometimes surprise and subvert underestimations when it would exceed its limitations and featured games at the height of Sega’s creativity, yet it was also doomed, just like me! This was the tripartite conjunction which made the ‘The Cassini’ namesake meaningful. I spelled “Projekt” with a “k” because it looks cool and as it turned out, unbeknownst to myself, spelling it this way lends a certain Krautrock affectation, which makes it even cooler?
What Country/Region are you from and what is the Metal/Rock scene like there?
I’m from Dublin, Ireland. The Metal/Rock scene is small but active, if not thriving. There are lots of great bands there including Scathed, Syllian Rayle and the likes. The Irish Rock and Metal Archive does a lot to promote the scene.
What is your latest release? (Album, EP, Single, Video)
My latest release is “Blue Ocean Event”, to be released on the 18th of July. The title refers to the full melting of the polar ice caps from climate change ushering in a catastrophic collapse for civilisation with billions dying. For example, the song ‘Go Down’ concerns environmental collapse and revelry in destruction in a kind of Freudian death-drive way. The idea that the world is unsalvageable so you might as well cheer on its end, but also, perhaps that the collective subconscious has a desire, an attraction if you will, to annihilate itself. ‘The End of Everything’ is about societal implosion and evolution, while ‘Exile’ is about being a refugee in a war-torn world impacted by climate change. ‘Fight to the End’ is about bloody revolution and again the euphoric enjoyment of global annihilation (if you play the backwards whispers in the song in reverse you might hear a message about human instrumentality!). ‘Cauterise’ on the other hand is a savage, misanthropic attack on the corruption of the judicial system and calls into question the legitimacy of human governed, centralised laws. ‘Roadwave’ is focused on a financially induced suicide and cosmic paranoia about a Loki type god who savours the irritation and torment of its subjects, while ‘False Dawn’ is about a transcendent experience, seeing multiple versions of the self across parallel realities simultaneously. In a similar vein ‘The Sacred Song’ is about predetermination and lack of agency in the universe. ‘Fight to Believe’ is in some ways the centre piece of the album and is loosely based on Roland of Gilead’s torturous path in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Roland sacrifices everything (and realises the folly of this at the end) to reach the nexus of all realities in the multiverse, which is made manifest in the Tower. By the same token I have sacrificed much, perhaps too much to make this album! But there again, I think the transference of one’s soul ichor into a piece of music is what makes it come alive, which is what I attempted to do here so je ne regret rein! While there are mostly serious themes, there is one moment of brevity with ‘Hell is a Place in Mexico’, which concerns an ill-fated trip to Mexico where our hapless protagonist drinks too much Tequila and goes on a psychedelic vision quest. In a similar lighter fashion, ‘Neurotic Insomniac’ is about accessing parallel realities through dreams to hear songs that were written in timelines contiguous to our own and then nicking them for one’s own creative endeavours!
Who have been your greatest influences?
Great question, my greatest influences include Queen, The Mars Volta, Opeth, Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Beck, Thin Lizzy, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and 90s Sega Music by composers like Yuzo Koshiro, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi and Kentaro Koyama. The guitar tracks in Sega Rally and Virtua Cop had a massive formative influence growing up. In addition, Queen with the grandiose bombast, experimentation with multiple genres and harmonisation would be the alpha and omega of my musical universe. However, here’s the interesting thing, in the studio the engineer frequently noted how my tunes sounded like Rush, and I’ve never listened to them! He also likened some songs to Blink 182, so I guess the Pop Punk influence shaped me a bit when I was growing up despite not listening to any of it. In a certain way, I feel a kind of kinship with Punk in terms of that snarling, defiant attitude towards authority and established ways of doing things.
What first got you into music?
Another great question, my brother played me lots of Queen, The Beatles, Mozart, Beethoven, The Stranglers, Buddy Holly and later Ice T! There were instruments lying around because he had a band called The Supersonic Oranges, so I would pick them up and experiment with them. I started learning piano at around 7 years of age and then moved onto guitar around at around 14.
If you could collaborate with a current band or musician, who would it be?
I wouldn’t mind collaborating with Mx.iTerra as I feel her creative vision is similar to my own – Cyberpunkish with heavy guitars. Maybe Bear McCreary – he digged my cover of his tune ‘Prelude to War’. Or Mick Gordon who composed the Doom Eternal OST, which was my favourite “album” of 2020.
If you could play any festival in the world, which would you choose and why?
I would choose The Cambridge Rock festival because I like Cambridge, Prog Rock bands play at it, and there is beer to be had.
What’s the weirdest gift you have ever received from a fan?
If kind words are a gift, I’ve been offered some which bemused me in the extent of their praise.
If you had one message for your fans, what would it be?
Thank you for your appreciation of my music, you are the chosen ones and together we will achieve global domination, enslaving this wicked race known as humanity on behalf of all lifeforms it has subjugated!
If you could bring one rock star back from the dead, who would it be?
This is a tough question…I would lean towards saying Freddie Mercury because he was a hilariously unique human being, but I’m thinking if John Lennon hadn’t died, we’d have more Beatles records. Jimi Hendrix was also going in a funky direction. I think I’ll pick Freddie Mercury though.
What do you enjoy the most about being a musician? And what do you hate?
I most enjoy the creative process. I love writing and recording. Playing live is also a gift even if it’s to one person. In terms of what I’m disinterested in or at worst hate, I would say marketing, self-promotion and social media. I just don’t have the brain for that those hats.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Stopping the pressure and expectation to conform to one genre would be a good start. A lot of old bands like Queen, Thin Lizzy, The Beatles or even more recent artists like Beck didn’t limit themselves to just one style, but then there weren’t Spotify playlists which encourage this. Phil Anselmo made a good point that when he was starting off, bands would have ten or eleven influences, whereas now you have bands emulating just one artist and sounding like a carbon fibre copy. I think we need more variation and more of a Punk Rock spirit of doing your own thing against the grain. Bucking the trend needs a revival.
Name one of your all-time favourite albums?
Ooh this one is tricky, but I’ll say “The Bends” by Radiohead. There is not one weak song on it, and I love the way it is an upfront guitar album. In my opinion it is the perfect album; ‘Planet Telex’, ‘Just’, ‘My Iron Lung’ and ‘Fade Out’ are incredible but every other song kicks ass too. They were firing on all cylinders with that one, the guitar work was innovative for the time. For example, the harmonics in the solo for ‘The Bends’ sounds novel and uplifting while the rising octave scale in Just is taking you on a trip. I wanted the same approach for “Blue Ocean Event”; I picked my best songs and emphasised the guitars.
What’s best? Vinyl, Cassettes, CDs, or Downloads?
Vinyl hands down for me. With Vinyl you have all the cool artwork and putting one on forces you to listen to the whole album to get that narrative experience, which immerses you in a different world. It’s like a sacred rite, removing the Vinyl from the album sleeve and carefully placing it on the record player, hoping not to desecrate its sacred grooves. You also own the album; you’re not renting it from a service; I think with the way things are going with respect to subscriptions and everything being rent-based where “you’ll own nothing and be happy”, it’s nice to say something is yours – it gives a sense of sovereignty doesn’t it?
What’s the best gig that you have played to date?
I did enjoy playing a particular gig in Durham when the wind blew through my hair for extra epicness, at medium setting! The after-show party was also interesting to say the least when the bassist nearly burned down his own house. I’d say in terms of gigs, while I write music for myself, the performances are for the people. Therefore, I believe in putting on the most entertaining show possible. I also have some cool ideas involving electricity and a mix of science and the occult (kind of like the imagery in Metropolis crossed with what you’d find in HP Lovecraft stories) for future live shows.
If you weren’t a musician, what else would you be doing?
I would like to be a film director. I enjoy making music videos, doing the postproduction with VFX and compositing in addition to scripting ideas.
Which five people would you invite to a dinner party?
I would invite Lemmy for sure, he’d get the party going and Tommy Wiseau, who is a genius for making a film as legendary as The Room. Other guests would include Mozart as he was a party animal and could give some poetry recitals. Perhaps, Ada Lovelace because she liked to gamble, and we could play craps and roulette. I’d also invite Jimi Hendrix as a fellow lefty guitarist and science fiction fan.
What’s next for the band?
I’m recording a new album called “Grass Messiah”; it’s even weirder than “Blue Ocean Event”. A lot of the songs are story based and more esoteric. There are also more drop tunings. Even though the lyrics are little bit more whimsical, the vibe is heavier. I’m hoping to release that one sometime in next few years, time will tell!
What Social Media/Website links do you use to get your music out to people?
I’m really active on YouTube which you can find here:
I have some new, exciting covers coming up, including a rather wild interpretation of a Brahms’ violin concerto, which will be released on my channel in the coming months. I upload all original material to Spotify and Bandcamp, in addition to YouTube. You can find my Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6U7RkRtMus7YYkzRIl1YAp
I also like to preview experiments on Soundcloud
I’m active on Twitter
You can also find my music on:
And all the rest…
Jaffa Cakes? Are they a cake or a biscuit?
Biscuit easily. The texture of the base is that of a biscuit. It’s also too small to be a cake. It’s like the difference between planets and moons. Biscuits are the orbital bodies of cakes, they derive from cakes, but cakes are the larger, gravitational objects. If you had a cake and a Jaffa cake before you, which would you eat first? More than likely the cake for dessert after the main course, followed by the Jaffa cake with a cup of tea. This is the order of things. So it is in space, as it will be in the dining room. (Note from the Ed – this is my favourite answer to the Jaffa Cake question ever! – Beth)
Thank you for your time. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Yes, thanks for these interesting questions, I enjoyed answering them. Also be sure to follow me on social media and listen to my album “Blue Ocean Event” because it will give you special powers of divination, telekinesis, telepathy, invisibility at will and the ability to fly. Further, I’m down to play any events, so get in touch!
Disclaimer: This interview is solely the property of Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this interview, unless you have the strict permission of said party. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.